What Are Hybrid and Open Pollinated Seeds?


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Squash can make odd babies if they are cross-pollinated. Photo: hello-julie / CC by 2.0

Squash can make odd babies if they are cross-pollinated. Photo: hello-julie / CC by 2.0

Cross Pollination Can Cause Seed Confusion

Adding to the confusion is the tendency of some plants to cross-pollinate. In nature, cross-pollination between plants in the same species is not necessarily a bad thing, and it can result in interesting variation in a population. For domestic cultivation, however, gardeners generally want to grow plants that resemble the plants that they are accustomed to, so oddball squash that are hard and not particularly edible just don’t work for the gardener.

When they are grown together, some plants like squash can be cross-pollinated. This means that pollen from one squash such as an acorn squash moves via a pollinator to another squash such as a zucchini. Even though these squash plants look different, they are the same species, and that means that they can cross breed. While this doesn’t matter to the generation of squash that are growing in the garden that summer, it does matter to future generations. If the gardener saves the seeds from this cross-pollinated squash, it will grow into some interesting zuccorn squash next summer.

Ecology and Your Garden: The Role of the Gardener in Plant Diversity

Where does this leave the gardener? The experimental gardener who’s intrigued by plant diversity can certainly encourage cross-pollination, and a diverse and interesting crop of zuccorn squash might be the result. A gardener who would like the benefit of human intervention for desired plant traits might choose a hybrid variety, while a gardener who’s interested in growing vegetables that are guaranteed to be edible but produce seeds that grow true to the parent plants would go for the open pollinated seeds.

For the beginning gardener, seed buying and seed saving can seem like a complicated business. Seeds might be simple, but the genetics behind their creation, and their role in an area’s ecological outlook can be downright complicated!


Buckler Lab for Maize Genetics and Diversity. Hybrid Vigor. Accessed January 15, 2013.

The Chen Laboratory. University of Texas at Austin. Polyploidy and Hybrid Vigor. (2011). Accessed January 15, 2013.

Silvertown, J. Seed ecology, dormancy, and germination: a modern synthesis from Baskin and Baskin. (1999). American Journal of Botany. Accessed January 16, 2013.

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